2019: A Year for Optimism, Forgiveness & an Inclusive Thriving Community

Inauguration PicI cherished a family filled holiday season to wrap up a very challenging year. Electoral success doesn’t wipe out a year of stress, but by the end of a New Year’s Day filled with the inauguration ceremony, OFD swearing in, and hours of celebrating with friends, family and supporters, I’m feeling exhilarated. (Do you recognize those curls? I asked Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg to administer the oath of office.) Copied below is my inauguration speech. Click here to view inauguration ceremony, queued up at the start of my speech.

“Start your day with optimism, end your day with forgiveness, and love will always be in your heart.”

These words of wisdom are from Gramma Judy. Last week this is how she closed her speech to a full room of family and friends who had gathered to celebrate her 97th birthday. Few people reach this age. Fewer still grow wiser and kinder each day, and maintain the ability to enjoy and share that wisdom. In a moment when so many of us sometimes lose our sense of optimism, and forget the importance of forgiveness—this advice is well taken.

Thankfully, Ossining has much to be optimistic about.

One thing this most recent election accomplished was clarity of vision for the village—voters in every election district want a village government guided by an engaged community and informed by experts.

In 2019, the Village of Ossining will build on our strengths as a diverse and historic Hudson River village, with a burgeoning entrepreneurial community. We have a strong foundation of knowledge from recent studies, as well as the expertise on staff, and the political will in elected office, to establish and implement a clear roadmap for the future of our village.

One of those studies was the Housing Needs Assessment that we undertook in 2017. It’s time to return to this list of recommendations, and to follow it, in order, as it was designed to serve us best. The recommendations include:

increasing leadership on economic development;

proactive building code enforcement;

expanding opportunities for mixed-use mixed-income development;

a more progressive affordable housing policy;

updating the comprehensive plan; and

improving transit options.

This is a holistic approach to addressing the greatest challenges we must overcome in our quest for a thriving community. (Click here to read the full report of recommendations from the Housing Needs Assessment.)

I am now entering my third term as mayor. With each term I have implemented new initiatives to improve connections between local government and residents. In my first term, I created Open Office Hours, and kept cameras rolling for public comments. With this most recent term, I began the Monday Mayor’s Message and embarked on a journey of Weekly Walks to explore every block of the village. (To sign up to receive the Monday Mayor’s Message each week, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.)

These efforts have established a more open and transparent government than has ever existed in our village. But these initiatives aren’t good enough. The people I am connecting with too often look too much like me.

Sometimes anger and divisiveness can be a reason for optimism… In this moment when our nation is more polarized than ever with a president who foments xenophobia, racism and isolationism, people are motivated to engage with their community in ways they never have. Right here in Ossining, this recent election shined a light on groups of people who feel underserved and disenfranchised. A goal for any municipal government should be to help its residents attain an equitable quality of life. That can only be accomplished if we find a way to bring everyone to the table, especially those who have not traditionally felt welcomed and included.

For years I have been told by experts, and colleagues, and even friends that it’s simply an unfortunate reality that the people who are going to engage with local government are going to be whiter, wealthier and older than most of the residents of our community. Every time we seek community involvement, we in government make a sincere effort to reach out in innovative ways to groups throughout the community. Time and again we make only marginal improvements. And that is not good enough.

Now is the time to try a new approach. I am proposing to my colleagues on the Village Board that we establish a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. Fortunately, we would not be the first community to undertake this kind of initiative. This week I will be sharing with village trustees examples of approaches taken in other communities. Once we have a clear goal for what we are asking of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, we will turn to you, the community and ask for you to help us become a genuinely inclusive community so that we can celebrate our diversity and experience an equitable quality of life throughout Ossining.

Ossining has many reasons to be optimistic. We are in a moment when people are investing in our community. We have leadership in the village, town, and schools that all want to work together to balance our challenges and goals. We have a clear set of recommendations to set us on our path to a thriving community for all.

The Comprehensive Plan is a major component of this undertaking. It is multi-year task that will demand significant resources from village staff and elected officials. And it all starts with you. The Village is creating a Comprehensive Plan Committee to be comprised of community members with a diversity of skills, cultures and life experiences. This Committee will work to establish the vision of who Ossining wants to be in the next 5, 10 and 20 years.

So tell me, are we all feeling optimistic? YES, and with good reason.

So, now it’s time to seek and offer forgiveness. And that begins with expressing gratitude. When you take a moment to be grateful for all of the people in your life, forgiveness comes easily.

I will begin by expressing deep gratitude to my husband and sons for supporting my reelection campaign. Four years ago we had no real idea of what to expect. We went into this campaign with our eyes open—and I think we are a little less battered this time around. During this wild year Eric opened a brewery. And Paxton and Levon learned to make their own dinner and put themselves to bed. I can’t say anything further or I’ll start crying. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for their support.

Any time I run for office in Ossining there is one very important person to have on my side, our Democratic Chairwoman Thomasina Laidley-Brown. Madam Chairwoman, thank you for believing in me. You’re a woman who likes to win. For some folks that means always playing it safe. You took a chance on me four years ago, and here we are celebrating victory again.

I’d like to thank every district leader who endorsed me, every volunteer who knocked on doors, wrote letters, called voters, wrote a check, engaged in sometimes uncomfortable conversations with friends, and ultimately all those who voted.

At the core of those volunteers was a campaign team I could not have predicted, and can never thank enough. I can only hope to be judged by the company I keep. Thank you Jen Benson, Lisa Chang, Matt Curtin, Eric Gearity, Julie Johnson, Ro Moran, Christina Picciano, Suzie Ross, Dana White, and Ben Zebelman for tirelessly sharing your talents, intelligence and dedication to make the campaign a success.

As my village and town board colleagues can attest, serving in local elected office is profoundly rewarding. We know the people we are serving. We see the results of our work, and how the programs that we have fought for have improved the lives of our neighbors. In fact, all of us here today are walking on a new gym floor and lit by new LED lighting—projects that we spent hours discussing the best way to fund and implement. I am grateful to serve the people of Ossining with so many impressive elected officials in village, town, county and state government—many of whom are here today. And I am grateful to serve in village government with so many dedicated and talented employees who make this village tick year after year, regardless of who is in elected office.

And finally, I am grateful to the people of Ossining. Those who voted for me, those who voted for my opponent, those who couldn’t vote but encouraged others to. Thank you to everyone who has visited me during Open Office Hours or sent an email. Thank you to everyone who has spoken at a public meeting or responded to a survey. Special thank you to all the volunteers who serve the village in the fire department, the auxiliary police, and all of the appointed boards and committees. It takes a village to make a village run.

I will close with a final word on optimism as a way of introducing the upcoming musical selection. When Louis Armstrong recorded What a Wonderful World in the 60s he was asked what he meant by “a wonderful world” given all the wars, hunger, and pollution. Mr. Armstrong replied,

“It seems to me it ain’t the world that is so bad, but what we’re doing to it. And all I’m saying is what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.”

Ossining, thank you for giving me a chance to serve another term as your mayor. Together we are accomplishing wonderful things.

Please join me in welcoming Christina Picciano performing What a Wonderful World.

 

Experience Matters, Elections Matter

Tomorrow, you, the Ossining community, will exercise your right to vote. I am grateful to have served these last four years, and I am asking for your support again tomorrow.

My opponent agrees with me on many positions, but we differ on some very basic points. 

  • I advocate for smart growth guided by a vision shaped by the community. My opponent calls for a moratorium.
  • I have maintained a 0% tax rate increase for the past two years, and I am now entering my sixth budget season. My opponent has never voted on a budget.
  • I support the recommendations of the Housing Needs Assessment—a multi-pronged approach including an economic development strategy, comprehensive plan update, and progressive affordable housing legislation. My opponent disregarded the recommendations of the Housing Needs Assessment in favor of ETPA, a 40+ year old NYS rent stabilization program that will shift the tax burden, making Ossining less affordable for most residents.
  • I believe in civility and professionalism in government. My opponent uses public meetings for grandstanding and attempts at bullying.
  • I have championed initiatives to promote Ossining as an inclusive and safe village for the LGBTQ community, including the first gender neutral bathroom signage policy for a municipality in NYS, and advocating for the establishment of the Ossining LGBTQ Alliance. My opponent has said he supports the LGBTQ community.
  • I have established a more open and transparent government than ever before existed in our village with Open Office Hours, the Monday Mayor’s Message, Weekly Walks, keeping cameras rolling for public comments, and launching a new website. My opponent talks a lot about transparency and open government. Meanwhile, he violates NYS Open Meetings laws by gaining consensus among Trustees through phone calls rather than during a public meeting, and has failed to file his last two mandatory disclosure reports with the NYS Department of Campaign Finance.
  • Row A All the WayI have been endorsed by leaders in village, town, county and state government. My opponent failed to get the endorsement of the Ossining Democratic Committee, despite being a member years longer than I have. He then lost the Democratic primary and is running in the General Election on another party’s line.
  • I entered politics through a pathway of environmentalism. I served on the Village Environmental Advisory Council, the Executive Board of the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium, and the steering committee that established Sustainable Westchester. The first legislation I spearheaded was to allow beekeeping in the Village, and our legislation is now the most progressive in the county. I introduced and advocated for the Village to adopt a Complete Streets Policy. I initiated and championed transitioning to LED streetlights—saving taxpayers over $100K dollars annually and reducing our carbon footprint. When asked, my opponent cites his participation in Stash the Trash, and being supportive of environmental initiatives introduced and championed by me.

In a moment when our nation is divided like never before, our community has identified shared priorities. Experience matters. Elections matter. I hope you will get out and vote tomorrow, and encourage friends to as well. And I hope I have earned your support for another term.

Candidates Forum: Thank You to All Who Participated

Thank you to all of the engaged community members who attended last night’s Candidates Forum. Thank you also to the League of Women Voters for moderating, and to the Ossining Chamber of Commerce for hosting the event.

Candidates Forum 2018The best part of campaigning is connecting with residents who care deeply about our community. Last night’s forum was an opportunity to speak directly to you, our neighbors. Our responses highlighted some of the differences in experience and priorities between my opponent and me. There were important topics that were not addressed by the questions selected, notably how we will balance crowded schools with economic development and updating the Comprehensive Plan. To learn more about my positions on local issues, I encourage you to visit my website. I have called for us to open the Comprehensive Plan, and for the whole community to work together to shape who Ossining wants to be in 5, 10 and 20 years.

Thank you to the Ossining Public Library for welcoming us into your wonderful space. Those who did not attend can was the broadcast on the government access channel or you can click here to view it on YouTube.

This is an historic election between two candidates, and while my opponent and I agree on many issues, we differ on some as well. I take a positive and informed approach to government and respect differing views. Civility matters, whether it’s at a board meeting or running into people in our everyday lives.

I am asking for your vote on November 6. I am also asking for your voice as envision what is next for Ossining. The only way to do that well is for us to do it together.

 

Enough Grandstanding, Ossining Needs Leaders to Work With the Community

Screenshot 2018-10-25 11.33.19Last night my opponent opened the meeting by attacking my campaign with misguided and desperate threats. Everything in my statement, posted last Friday is accurate and true. I am the candidate with the maturity and knowledge base to keep Ossining on an upward trajectory, as I have for two terms. No amount of noise or threats will change that.
 
Following my opponent’s opening statement at the work session, several of us engaged in a discussion about the Safe Housing Community Partners meeting that the Village convened earlier this week. Around minute 17 of the video, I comment on my experience working with leaders in land use planning and economic development in both the public and private sector, and further clarify my statement of what makes for a wise approach to thoughtful economic development.
 
Click here to read my written statement about the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant and my call for the Village to reopen the Comprehensive Plan. Instead of making a spectacle our public meetings, we need Village government to lead an intelligent process for engaging the community in shaping the future of Ossining.

Moratoriums Don’t Help Move Us Forward: Why New Rochelle won a $10 million development grant—and Ossining didn’t

Congratulations to our friends in New Rochelle for being awarded the $10M Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Grant. This is the first time a Westchester community has won.

Ossining was a finalist again this year for the DRI. We have applied all three of the years it has been available, and we have been finalists twice. The DRI candidates in the Mid Hudson Region of the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) face stiff competition. Ossining’s submission this year was excellent, thanks to the hard work and expertise of a team of people in Village government and the community. New Rochelle didn’t beat us because our submission wasn’t good enough. They beat us because they have demonstrated a commitment and a capacity for economic development.

For years I’ve attended conferences and heard about the New Rochelle Approach. New Rochelle’s approach begins with involving the whole community to establish clear priorities, and then determine parameters and incentives to achieve them. They institutionalized a process that operates smoothly regardless of any momentary political strife. A developer looking to consider New Rochelle knows exactly what they need to provide to the city, and the approval process for their application takes 60-90 days.  This streamlined process means that instead of a developer spending years and lots of money in the approval process, they can invest more into the project—investing more into achieving the goals of our community.NR DRI map

The REDC will only entrust $10M to a community with leadership that is committed to smart economic development. New Rochelle sent a clear message to the DRI decision makers that they are committed to smart economic development that reflects their community’s priorities.

Unfortunately, the current political climate in Ossining sent a very different message. When my opponent began publicly calling for a moratorium as a top priority in his vision for the future, the Village lost any chance of being awarded the DRI for 2018.

One clear challenge for Ossining to consider is how do we balance our desire for high quality housing at all income levels, with a crowded school system. The good news is, we are now refocusing our efforts on comprehensive planning. While the $10M DRI grant would expand our capabilities and resources for economic development planning, we have a strong foundation to build on—so long as we have leadership that is committed to smart growth driven by community priorities. We are fortunate to have Village Planner Tracey Corbitt on board to help guide the process.

It is time to work with all our community partners to establish a vision for who Ossining will be in the next 5, 10 and 20 years. Ossining working together is how we are all successful. In just a few weeks, we will know the outcome of the election. The voters will determine our path forward.

Elect Candidates Who Reflect Your Values

I would like to join with my fellow members of the Town of Ossining Democratic Committee and Chairwoman Thomasina Laidley-Brown in denouncing the offensive tweets made by Working Families Party trustee candidate David Kezafrika.

Our community is one of hope, diversity, aspirations and families. We are a village that works together and is stronger because of our diversity. Comments that disparage women and those of different races have no place in Ossining Village government.

I will continue to focus on Ossining’s strengths, and engage all of our community in planning an even brighter future together. I am proud to stand on my record of leading a progressive government that is inclusive, fiscally responsible, and supportive of local businesses.

Let’s Plan Ossining’s Future Together

Engaging with all community partners is essential in planning Ossining’s future. Small businesses are thriving for local entrepreneurs. That’s great for all of Ossining. Now it’s time to make big decisions about what kind of development we will welcome in the coming years so that we have intelligent growth that benefits our whole community. That process demands candid in-depth engagement with residents and public institutions, especially the School District.

New housing moratoriums haven’t always worked around the county, state and nation, and no matter how loud proponents are, we need to research and decide what model of growth works best here. Investment in Ossining is something we have embraced, and, with proper parameters we want to continue to attract new people and businesses to settle in our beautiful and historic village.

Ossining LandscapeConcerned parents leading the group Ossining for Fair Funding, delved into data provided by the school demographer, the Town Tax Assessor, as well as information about residential housing available through the freedom of information act. Their findings demonstrate that the increasing school population reflects several factors—and we all have a role to play in the solution. I applaud this community group, and would welcome a public conversation of their findings.

We all need to do our part to ensure that students who live in our community are able to access a terrific education—now and for years to come.

To address our crowded schools, the Village has a role to play with proactive code enforcement and smart planning. The School District and neighboring local governments have critical roles to play in addressing this challenge as well. We all must work together for the greater good.

We need to find the right balance. Together we will continue to support our thriving community, maintain a sustainable population in our dense village, encourage development that includes mixed use as well as mixed income levels, and reflect the unique character of Ossining.

This budget season, the Village will determine how we can dedicate more resources to code enforcement.

This week we had our first public meeting with the new Village Planner Tracey Corbitt. It was a productive start to a process we anticipated embarking on ten months ago. Last year we put a quarter million dollars in the budget to help us update the Comprehensive Plan. Many of us are frustrated that priorities shifted in the new year, and derailed any comprehensive planning efforts. Now is the time to refocus on comprehensive planning. That starts with a community conversation to clarify our vision. Who does Ossining want to be in the next 5, 10 or 20 years?

Advocating for Drivers Licenses for All

I am actively involved in the Greenlight NY initiative advocating for all NY drivers to become eligible to be licensed and insured—regardless of documentation status. Leaders in law enforcement agree, ensuring that all drivers know the rules of the road and have insurance, is better for everyone’s safety.

Last week I spoke about this effort in a televised roundtable. In this segment I express why it is important for local governments to send a powerful message to Albany that the people of our communities would benefit from this legislation.

The Local Live Roundtable

During this next segment I point out that New York would not be blazing any trails by passing this legislation. There are already a dozen states that provide drivers licenses regardless of documentation status.

The day after recording this show, I had an opportunity to speak with Governor Cuomo and I asked him whether he would sign the legislation if it is passed by the Assembly and the Senate. He said he would, though it must be a law, not an executive order. In this segment we discuss a bit of the political landscape and how this proposed legislation is being used as a divisive issue in some NY Senate races. Our conversation goes on to remind folks of the importance of voting.

I am proud to stand with Croton, Greenburgh, Irvington, Mamaroneck Village and Town, Ossining Town, Peekskill, Port Chester, and Yonkers in having taken this first step in sending a clear message to Albany that, for the sake of our communities, they must pass this legislation. I will continue to reach out to fellow chief elected officials across Westchester so that we can grow this list.

We often feel removed from decisions about immigration policies coming from the White House. Fighting for residents to have access to drivers license, regardless of documentation status, is something a tangible that can make a difference in the lives of Ossining residents.

 

9/11 Remembrance Remarks

Thank you to the Firefighters who bring us together every year for this ceremony. Ossining is a community that deeply appreciates the service of our first responders. We rest easier safe in the knowledge that you all stand ready to protect us.

By bringing us together for this remembrance each year, you not only keep alive the memories of that tragic day 17 years ago, you nourish this community by reminding us of the universal story we all share.

9.11 CeremonyWe are like communities all across America today who gather to share and listen. Most of us today were alive in 2001, and we recall our own stories. When we come together we listen to each other, and with each story we hear, we deepen our connections to each other.

While each personal story of that day is unique, it most always is also a story with the same theme about the unifying spirit that shined so brilliantly in the wake of the towers falling.

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit three houses of worship—Episcopalian, Baptist, and Quaker. While these all share a common scripture, they have their own vocabulary for expressing the foundation of every religion and every culture. Whether you are Christian or Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or Agnostic—you have a way of expressing the same universal thing that we all share.

Whether you call it the light within, the Holy Spirit, God, Christ, Allah, inner wisdom, life-force, the word, or simply humanity, you know that it shines most brightly when we face the greatest evil. And thank God it does. Because, we need those personal stories to be about more than the agonizing loss, the violence, the fury.

There’s a song that’s been stuck in my head since I attended the musical program at Trinity Church on Saturday afternoon. So I will close with a verse from the wise spiritual leader, Bette Midler:

From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

 

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